Archive for August, 2009

A New Myth Emerging

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Like all groups, the Left is sustained by its myths. These myths serve a crucible into which all facts are grounded and  the resulting powder is rendered into the appropriate narrative. Consider just a couple of these myths.

The Left believes that President Bush was not elected in 2000, but rather “appointed” by a partisan Supreme Court. According to this myth, the re-count that was proceeding at the time should have been allowed to continue. What is often forgotten is that under the re-count rules then issued by the Florida Supreme Court, in a count conducted by Florida newspapers, Bush still won. However, evidence is often insufficient to overcome stubborn myths.

The Left believes that Senator John Kerry lost his bid for the presidency in 2004  because of “lies” told by the Swift Boat Veterans about his Vietnam service. However, the election was really lost when John Kerry stood up before the Democratic National Convention and “report[ed] for duty” with a smart salute to a cheering partisan crowd. The gesture was meant to overcome the perception that Democrats were anti-military, but the salute made the details of Kerry’s service a legitimate subject for scrutiny. This, coupled with the clumsy effort of Dan Rather and 60 Minutes to run a story critical of Bush’s service in the Texas National Guard based on apparently forged documents, discredited much of the pro-Kerry national media and actually made the Swift Boat Veterans appear more credible.

A new myth is emerging now. If President Barack Obama is unable to create a medical care plan with a “public  option,” we will be told that the proposal was buried under the weight of Republican lies. While there is a lot of misinformation floating around — some of it perpetuated by Obama himself — the political hurtles impeding the Obama health care plan were erected early in the year.

The stimulus package passed early in 2009 exploded the long-term deficit prospects making any new initiatives suspect. Moreover, Obama’s original, ostensible reason for a new health care arrangement was to reduce health care costs that he described as economically “unsustainable.” When the history is written of this time, the death blow to ambitious health care reform may have come from the Congressional Budget Office. This non-partisan arm of Congress scored the cost (not savings) of the plan to be over $1 trillion. If previous spending is unsustainable, adding more costs seems less sustainable.

Facts are unimportant in the face of myth. Expect that the myth of the Republican lies to sustain the Left in their cold nights of discontent.

Willingness to Listen

Sunday, August 23rd, 2009

Whole Foods Market is one of those stores that conscientious and affluent liberals shop to maintain their health and  assuage their collective guilt. The store offers organically-grown vegetables, biodegradable washing agents, as well as catering to those who prefer specialized diets from diary-free to vegetarian to gluten-free. It would be unfair to assume anything about all Whole Foods Shoppers, but it is not unreasonable to assert that on average they are further to the Left than the average shopper.

Recently, Whole Foods CEO. John Mackey, wrote a op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal entitled “The Whole Foods Alternative to ObamaCare,” opposing the Obama health care plan and the socialization of health care provision. The article offered a list of mostly free-market policy options that he believes could mitigate health care concerns. Interestingly, he notes that when given a choice, Whole Foods employees in Canada and the UK, models of health care policy often held up  by the Left, prefer:

“…supplemental health-care dollars that they can control and spend themselves without permission from their governments.”

Mackey’s particular recommendations can and ought to be debated. What it is interesting in this case is the response of some on the Left. Rather than engaging the issues raised in the the op-ed piece directly, the reaction was to boycott Whole Foods.  Of course, no one is or ought to be forced to patronize Whole Foods. Anyone can decide to not shop there for any reason and even try to persuade others not to. What makes this case relatively unique is that no one is arguing about Whole Food practices.  Those who are want to boycott Whole Foods want to punish the company for the expression of an honest opinion. Mackey’s op-ed was thoughtful and not mean-spirited, descriptions that do not apply to all those who are trying to boycott Whole Foods.

The next time, we hear complaints about town hall participants shouting others down,  remember those who use their dollars to punish those who have different ideas.

Projection by the Left

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

It is hard to be too critical of the Left for the natural tendency to interpret events in the context of their own experience. Since the 1960’s in the United States, and even earlier elsewhere, the Left has made an fine art of organizing political protests. They have developed the organizations institutional and cultural frame works for protests and disruptions. Indeed, disruptions of public events are an honored tradition on the Left.

The Left favors the current structure and direction of the proposed healthcare reform. Hence, when Democratic (and some Republican) politicians conducted town hall meetings on health care legislation, most expected them to be rather perfunctory. The Right does not do protests, at least not well.  Moreover, town hall meetings, conducted in the heat of summer during the Congressional hiatus, are not usually well attended, and rarely controversial. This summer, the meetings have become raucous and passionate as many, particularly elderly Americans, complained about various features of healthcare reform. This is a particularly grave achievement, since there is no definitive bill yet.

The instinctive reaction on the Left is to project angrily their own tactics on to the protesters,  and to assume that the crowds were “manufactured” by Republicans and others. The people who opposed the proposed healthcare plan were called “un-American” by the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority leader Steny Hoyer. Democratic Senator Dick Durban suggested that protesters at town halls are pawns of health insurance companies. There was even the ugly suggestion that opposition to the Obama health care plan in rooted in racism against the president.

Democrats have argued that people at town hall meetings were inhibiting debate by shouting. It is always better to have calm discussions, but the purpose of town hall meetings is not only information exchange but also making clear to politicians the fervor of feeling. The argument of Democrats for deliberate informed debate would appear less disingenuous, if they had not try to rush through a complex, 1000-page bill. If Democratic plans had not unexpectedly crashed into a wave of popular discontent, a healthcare bill would have passed with little debate before the Congressional hiatus.

Almost certainly there were some activist Republicans  at these town hall meetings, but  Republicans only wish that they could organize well enough to fill town hall meetings with passionate partisans. Many Conservatives, particularly those of a Libertarian bent, are not the most hospitable to top-down organizations. No, the feelings at the meetings were generally authentic. Speaker Pelosi could not even acknowledge that the emotions at the meetings represented a “grass roots” movement and disparagingly referred to the movement as “astroturf.”

The tactic of the Left to impugn the intelligence or motives of Conservatives is sometimes effective. Ask former Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Some are hesitant to defend such politicians lest they too be considered uncool or stupid. However, with regard to the town hall meetings, Democrats and the Left were not insulting politicians. This time, they insulted regular Americans, people who looked much like family or neighbors. The public felt that those in power where not only not listening, but disputing motives and even the right to challenge their Congressional representatives. That is one reason why the chant “You work for us!” secured quick popularity. Indeed, average people are more sympathetic with the protesters, since the protests began. Even more importantly support for Congressional healthcare plans has plummeted. If Democrats wish to revive the chances of passage of their healthcare proposals, the supposed party of the low and middle class must learn to respect their charges — at least in public.

Radical Past

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

One of the advantages enjoyed by President Barack Obama when running last year for president was his deliberately opaque past. The electorate wanted “change,” and Obama’s pleasant and moderate demeanor allowed people to project whatever qualities they wanted on the young senator. Senator McCain had a long political record that was right-of-center, but often (too often for Conservatives) crossed the aisle and voted with Democrats. Obama’s political associations in Chicago, by contrast, had been far Left, but neither the polity or the media much cared. Indeed, to ask the question seemed mean-spirited.

Now that the country is considering an overhaul — perhaps radical overhaul — of the US health care delivery system, some of Obama’s radical past may be coming back to haunt him. One key issue in the present health care (now the Administration has decide to call it “health insurance”) debate surrounds the “public option.”

The public option is the provision of a separate, government-run health insurance. The theory is that the government will provide competition to private insurance companies, driving down costs. The fear among Conservatives is that a subsidized pubic option will drive out private insurance options and create a Canadian-style, “single-payer” system.  Ultimately, choice will be effectively eliminated. Liberal House member Barney Frank produced evidence supporting this fear view by publicly promising exactly that outcome as an outgrowth of a public option.

New suspicions are growing about Obama’s intentions in this regard. A 2003 video of Barack Obama as an Illinois State Senator saying, to cheers, that he supported a single payer option has emerged. A later video has Obama explaining that it make take many years, but he want to move toward elimination of employer-provided insurance.  It does, therefore,  seem reasonable to question the intentions of Liberals supporting a public option as a Trojan Horse.

It is possible the Obama has changed his mind on the health-care system since he claimed support for a single-payer system, or that he was carried away while speaking to labor groups. Changing one’s mind is not a failing, and can indicate intellectual growth.

If Obama wants a single-payer system, like he publicly claimed in 2003, he should admit as much and explain to us his reasons for such a plan. If he doesn’t he should explain why he changed his mind. What has he learned in the interim? However, the Administration is not owning up to Obama’s previous positions. If the Administration does not recognize and explain the change, if there has been one, in Obama’s position, it will serve to undermine public trust.

Whale Wars: A New Ahab

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009

Like most people, I am sympathetic to the plight of whales, particularly endangered varieties. Once whales were an important source of oil and the pursuit of this resource radically reduced whale numbers. As the need for this resource diminished and countries recognize the need for conservation, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling was agreed upon in an attempt to keep some whales from extinction. Current international agreements allow for some whale harvesting, for example for indigenous peoples and for scientific research. The Japanese have been accused of violating these agreements by using the “research” exclusion to harvest whales for the real purpose of providing a popular Japanese foodstuff.

The Whale Wars is an Animal Planet channel show detailing the exploits of the Sea Shepard organization to stop the Japanese whaling. The show has miraculously succeeded in transforming a natural sympathy for the whales into rooting interest for the Japanese whaling ships. This transformation is a consequence of antipathy for Paul Watson, founder of the Sea Shepard Conservation Society, who comes across in the show (I am sure unintentionally) as a petty, arrogant little Napoleon, whose Ahab-like pursuit of self aggrandizement puts others at dangers.

Watson captains the Steve Irwin, a ship named after the popular television conservationist killed in a tragic accident. Though there are some crew members with experience, the ship operates in the dangerous Southern Ocean with young people largely equipped with more zeal and eagerness for adventure than experience. Watson sends these people out in small Zodiacs, often out of contact with the Steve Irwin in attempts to throw glass bottles of foul smelling butyric acid aboard the decks of whaling ships or racing in front of fast moving whaling ships trying to deploy lines to foul the props of these ships. One can not doubt the bravery of the young people enlisted by Watson, but it is a bravery girded by the expectation that the Japanese whalers will not use lethal force in self defense.  Thus far, the Japanese have confined there responses to water cannons an disabling acoustic devices.

The publicity seeking Watson, exaggerates every defensive effort by the Japanese as deliberately endangering his crew, when it is he who puts the crew in danger. Last year two crews member so the Steve Irwin managed to board a Japanese vessel a serve papers protesting whaling. The Japanese detained the individuals, while Watson quickly called the media claiming these people were be held hostage. One gets the impression, that Watson would eagerly exploit the accidentally injury or death of one of his crew for all the publicity he could. Indeed, last year Watson tried to claim that he was shot at by the Japanese.

It should be remembered that Paul Watson has a reputation as an eco-terrorist having advocated the use of tree spikes to deter logging. Tree spikes embedded in trees can damage equipment or more dangerously injure people. Tree spiking is a felony in the United States.

I have to admit that the series Whale Wars is exciting to watch. So now I have two unwanted guilty pleasures: Finding my self rooting for Japanese whaling ships for whom I would normally have a strong antipathy and giving positive ratings to publicity seeking old fart.